Warning! This post contains major spoilers for Station Eleven.
The HBO limited series Station Eleven has many intertwined characters and stories, so there’s no doubt the show’s ending has left many viewers with lingering questions. Station Eleven follows survivors of a worldwide flu pandemic that kills most of the Earth’s population. The show stars Mackenzie Davis as the Traveling Symphony’s star actress Kirsten, Gael Garcia Bernal as Arthur Leander, who died on stage at the start of the pandemic, Lori Petty as Symphony co-founder Sarah, and many others.
Station Eleven is based on the novel by the same name, written by Emily St. John Mandel and published in 2014. The book was a critical success, winning the Arthur C. Clarke award. It was also nominated for the National Book Award and has sold over 1.5 million copies. The limited series was created by Patrick Somerville, who previously served as a writer for The Leftovers and Maniac. Just as with his previous work, Somerville focuses on the human relationships that are crucial to his worldbuilding in Station Eleven.
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The HBO Max show focuses primarily on an inter-linked group of survivors who view the pandemic and its aftermath very differently. By combining and co-mingling these groups, along with other survivors, the show examines not only the fictional world of Station Eleven, but also the real world and its current COVID-19 pandemic. Utilizing his patented magical realism and off-kilter, non-linear storytelling, Somerville brings the dystopian Station Eleven to life in the harrowing, ten-episode series.
How Every Character & Story Ties Together
Strangely enough, the hub of Station Eleven’s connected stories is the man who died in the first episode — Arthur Leander. Played by Gael García Bernal, Arthur has come to Chicago to portray King Lear, a role that he hopes will reinvigorate his career and make him feel like a “real actor” once again. While preparing for the play, he meets Kirsten — a young actress who is appearing in the show — and they form a bond as they work together. This bond, and the love that she feels for him, is in direct contrast to Tyler’s relationship with Arthur, who is his estranged father. Tyler had no connection with his father, despite being his biological son, while Kirsten adored him, and Arthur apparently cared for her.
The connections to Arthur continue with the remaining characters. Jeevan Chaudhary, played by Himesh Patel, is the first audience member to recognize Arthur is having a heart attack. He rushes on stage to give aid to the actor, and eventually meets and helps Kirsten when she has no one to take care of her. In Station Eleven, Clark, who is both Arthur’s oldest friend, and possibly the man who hates him most in the world, is stranded in the same airport as Elizabeth and Tyler, who were also on their way to Arthur’s funeral. And Miranda, who wrote and created the Station Eleven graphic novel that serves as a spiritual anchor for both Kirsten and Tyler, was Arthur’s previous wife, who he cheated on with Elizabeth.
Miranda glimpses Kirsten’s Instagram account when she searches for information about Arthur’s death. Jeevan helps a doctor named Deborah deliver a large group of “post-pandemic” babies in a town that will later be named St. Deborah by the Water. One of those women, Rose, has been waiting for a friend who had promised to meet her, named Dave. She dies in childbirth before he can arrive. Dave, it is later revealed, is Tyler Leander, living under a new name. The baby Rose delivered is named Alexandra, and she will grow up to join the Traveling Symphony and be a younger sister-type to Kirsten.
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The Purpose of the Station Eleven Graphic Novel
Miranda’s work on the graphic novel serves as a way of processing the trauma she experienced as a child. She watched her entire family die during Hurricane Hugo, when a live wire fell into the flooded waters of their home. She was sitting on top of a countertop, coloring, which saved her life. Art, in her case, truly saved her life, and this becomes an essential theme of the series. Throughout Station Eleven, Miranda, Kirsten, and Tyler appear to interact with Dr. Eleven, the spaceman protagonist of Miranda’s graphic novel. Arthur, during his early interactions with Miranda in the dystopian Station Eleven, said that her character represented someone who was alone, but not a spaceman. They’re adrift and a bit exhausted. Their heart is lighter and warmer than they realize, and they wear the suit for protection. Miranda doesn’t confirm his analysis, but she warms to him and eventually joins him at the bar. This is likely because Miranda sees Dr. Eleven as a reflection of herself, and the things Arthur said made her feel good about herself. He made her feel seen.
This is a similar response to the way that Kirsten interacts with the spaceman. When she is struggling or scared, the vision of a spaceman appears to help guide her or make her feel protected. Dr. Eleven appears to Kirsten when she must move through a transition that she isn’t sure she wants to go through, serving as her guide and support system even when she doesn’t have one of her own. She has created this idea of the protective spaceman due to her obsessive rereading of the graphic novel, since it was given to her on the day that the pandemic started, Arthur died, and she lost her parents. Tyler, however, views the graphic novel as a sort of religious tome. Because he felt that the people in the airport betrayed him, and because he was alone and scared, he had only the Station Eleven comic as a guidepost. Because of his situation, he twisted the words that Miranda meant as her own therapy into a sort of pseudo-religion that he preaches to children.
Overall, the graphic novel reiterates the central theme of Station Eleven, which is that stories are the heart of civilization. The story that Miranda told in her graphic novel linked together countless people who would have otherwise not been connected. Even though they saw the story’s meaning differently, it was their mutual connections to the graphic novel, Arthur, and their separate experiences of a shared trauma that made the story’s impact so important.
Kirsten’s Reunion With Jeevan Mirrors Tyler’s Reunion With Elizabeth
Once Kirsten understands the reason for Tyler’s feelings about life before the pandemic, and his mistrust of the people at the airport, the two join forces to get into the airport together. Tyler’s motivation (he says) is to get something that belongs to him that he fears could be used to harm others, that Clark is keeping in the museum. Once inside, however, he destroys the museum, putting Kirsten and the Traveling Symphony in danger of being blamed.
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Because Tyler had faked his death aboard the plague plane when he was thirteen, he didn’t expect anyone to recognize him. Elizabeth, however, realizes that this man quoting a nearly unheard of graphic novel must be her son. They are happily reunited and forgive each other for the misunderstandings of the past. Kirsten angrily confronts Elizabeth when she finds out that Sarah, the beloved conductor, had died. She says that Elizabeth has no idea what the world is like outside, that it isn’t the kind of place where anyone finds someone they loved from their past. But Elizabeth is so lucky, she got to be reunited with her son, and she’s still whining about whether she should be happy about it.
Near the very end of “The Unbroken Circle,” Kirsten is shocked to be reunited with Jeevan, who she was sure was dead. The moment in Station Eleven reflects upon her earlier anger at Elizabeth, and focuses viewers’ thoughts on the surprise of hope in the post-pandemic world. Because of all she had been through, Kirsten had stopped allowing herself to feel hopeful. But by witnessing the reunion of Tyler and Elizabeth, as well as experiencing her own reunion with Jeevan, she starts to feel optimistic about the future.
Station Eleven Changes the Impact of “After the Play”
Early in Station Eleven (during the first 100 days), viewers hear Kirsten telling Jeevan that they can’t leave Frank’s apartment until “after the play.” Jeevan is concerned that food is running out and the city is getting dangerous, but Frank doesn’t want to leave. He is housebound, still suffering from pain caused by the shrapnel in his hip. He may even have had agoraphobia, and had developed a drug problem. Though she may not realize it, Kirsten understands on some level that Frank will likely struggle to manage the traveling that leaving the apartment would require. She can also sense the complicated but secretive debate that the brothers continue to have. Jeevan knows they’ll have to go, and Frank knows he can’t, meaning that he may have been considering suicide or staying alone to starve.
Because she can sense the growing tension, Kirsten works hard to write a play based on the Station Eleven graphic novel, and makes Jeevan promise that they’ll wait until they’ve performed the play before they leave. But as they finish performing the play, a stranger comes into the apartment. He stabs Frank before Jeevan kills the stranger. From that moment on, Kirsten blames herself for everything that happened “after the play.” However, the earlier play, King Lear, that Arthur and Kirsten were set to star in, was the unofficial start of the pandemic. And another play, the production of Hamlet at the airport, serves as the climax of the limited series.
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For much of the series, the phrase “after the play” feels melancholy, as the first two plays had led to tragedy, albeit inadvertently. But the final play at the airport leaves viewers with a sense of hope for the future. Even though Kirsten puts off telling the rest of the Symphony about Sarah’s passing until “after the play,” they celebrate her life, and her peaceful passing, in a loving and familial way. Then Kirsten is reunited with Jeevan, unexpectedly. Tyler and Elizabeth have their reunion and leave to create a life together, and the people in the airport are left to continue on as they wish. When they move on “after the play” this time, there is a new sense of possibility for the pandemic survivors, and it is evident that Kirsten, throughout the show, has come to realize that she was not to blame for the tragedies that befell those around her.
Station Eleven Finale’s Biggest Changes From The Book
HBO’s Station Eleven made several significant changes from the source material, starting from the first episode. The first, and most obvious change is that in the book, Jeevan doesn’t take Kirsten in, and the two of them don’t travel together. In the book, Kirsten has an older brother who also survives the flu. The two of them travel together until he steps on a rusty nail and dies of an infection. But by linking Jeevan and Kirsten together early on, the series creates a thread that ties all of the different parts of the story together, neatly. It also helps to more clearly focus on the damage done to the surviving children, which seems to be one of the main themes of Station Eleven’s ending. It’s also charming to see the progression of Jeevan, to father figure and doctor.
Another massive change from the book is Tyler’s motivation as the Prophet. In the book, the Prophet is a two-dimensional religious zealot who takes child brides and murders without cause. And while Tyler in the series isn’t necessarily a good guy, Station Eleven makes it clear that he is a product of the damage done to him as a child. He honestly seems to care for the children he takes in, there is no evidence of pedophilia, and he survives to the end of the show. In the book, he is killed before Kirsten ever reaches the airport.
The third, more subtle change from the book is the show’s sense of optimism. In the end, with heartfelt reunions for both Kirsten and Tyler finding their parental figures, the three groups separate with a feeling of hope for the future, albeit far different than their remembered past. In the book, Clark shows Kirsten a town in the distance that has regained electricity, and the Traveling Symphony heads there, presumably to start anew in an attempt to recreate the civilization of the past. HBO’s Station Eleven makes it clear that returning to the dangers of the past isn’t necessarily desirable, and the show is more hopeful for the revelation.
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Station Eleven Ending’s Real Meaning
Station Eleven is the story of death and survival, but the show clarifies that “Survival is Insufficient,” just as the Traveling Symphony’s motto says. By bringing the disparate groups together, by reuniting families, bridging misunderstandings to achieve forgiveness, and creating those bridges through the stories that bind humanity together, the miniseries’ ending focuses not simply on recovery, but also on renewal. In some ways, the series is an admonishment of modern society and a reminder that art, stories, kindness, and community are the only things that will save humanity, long-term. By ending the show as they did, the series creators have given a pandemic-ridden real world a glimpse of what is most important, and a story whose morals speak deeply to viewers now, more than ever.
Will There Be A Station Eleven Season 2?
Since Station Eleven is based on a novel by Canadian writer Emily St. John Mandel, all of the material has been covered. Therefore, a second season isn’t going to happen for the show. HBO Max always planned on a limited series for Station Eleven, and to add more to it would go beyond the realm of its source material. While certain shows have done that in the past, it rarely works and usually leads to a strangely unsatisfying ending. Because the main focus of the book was the Traveling Symphony, which the series already covered, the story can’t necessarily go any farther. Those who want more Station Eleven content should refer back to the source material to enjoy the original storyline in its purest form. Other television shows based on novels and graphic novels on HBO Max include the Sharp Objects limited series, Big Little Lies, the beloved Game of Thrones series, Watchmen, and True Blood.
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